08 September 2011

Soldier recalls serving as New York firefighter on 9/11

Staff Sgt. Peter Rosie, 1st Battalion, 4th Cavalry, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, kneels at Ground Zero following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that claimed the lives of more than 3,000 Americans. Rosie was serving as a paramedic with the New York Fire Department when the attacks occurred. Courtesy photo.

September 11, 2001 was supposed to be Peter Rosie's day off.

Rosie was currently in his eighth year of service as a paramedic with the New York Fire Department where his station served the residents of New York's Harlem community. A sudden phone call from his girlfriend instructing him to turn on the TV; and his life, as well as that of millions of others from the around the world, would be changed forever.

"I saw the first plane hit (the North Tower) on the TV. We had a small TV so you couldn't make out the magnitude of it," Rosie recalled of the terrorists attacks that struck New York's World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, and took more than 3,000 lives. "All I had to do was walk one flight to the roof and then I saw the second (plane) hit in front of me. My first thought was 'I better go to work.'"

The Scotland native who had previously served in the U.S. Army and later the British Army before joining the fire department then hopped on his son's bicycle to report to Bellevue Hospital Center. Throughout the following weeks the facility would be one of New York's busiest centers to treat the wounded and later assist with identifying the deceased.

Within 10 minutes Rosie was handed a two-way radio and assigned to a partner and an ambulance for assistance at the World Trade Center.

"They threw a radio at me and said 'Here's your partner' and we started going down (to the WTC),"he recalled. "All I knew was it was bad."

He would soon be a first-hand witness to the sheer magnitude and danger of the day's tragic events when his ambulance began to arrive on the scene just as the South Tower (the first of the two towers to collapse) began to fall and nearly struck his ambulance.

"We were driving into it as it was coming down. We're talking seconds. If we had been a little bit earlier -- goner. Then, it just went black."

Rosie recalled that the closer they traveled to what is now respectably known as "Ground Zero" the harder it became for one to keep their bearings and a clear eye sight due to the amount of smoke and falling debris. The first patients he would assist included a police officer suffering from a heart attack and victim who had lost a limb. The sight of them emerging from the smoke and ashes remain engrained in his memory.

"It was that first transport that was the worse," he said. "We backed up into Bellevue and there's just a sea of scrubs, just people waiting because there really wasn't that many units bringing anything significant in (yet)."

When he returned to the site, the second tower had also collapsed and he recalled how first responders were still attempting to establish a command post and a successful means of communications between emergency personnel.

"By that point, no one knew what was going on. We were hearing and getting all kinds of information. At one point we thought the Holland Tunnel was blown up."

Rosie recalls the rest of the day and ensuing night as operating on "auto-pilot" with numerous patient transports to the hospital and the treatment of an immense amount of respiratory distress and eye injuries.

He recalled that smoke would continue to rise from the site for nearly the next month and by then emergency crews had switched from rescue missions, designed to locate survivors, to recovery missions intended to retrieve the deceased from the debris.

For the following year when Rosie wasn't on his scheduled shift at the fire department, he (along with an uncounted number of additional emergency personnel) would be found volunteering for recovery missions at Ground Zero.

"For the next year if I wasn't working at Harlem, then I was working down at Ground Zero," he said. "If anything was found, we'd drive the (all-terrain vehicle) down into the hole, we'd drape the flag over it and drive it out. Up and down. Up and down.

"There was a lot of camaraderie (among the volunteers and emergency personnel). It was good but tiring. I was tired because if we weren't working or at Ground Zero, we were going to funerals. There were 343 funerals," Rosie said in reference to the number of NYFD firefighters who lost their lives on Sept. 11.

Staff Sgt. Peter Rosie, 1st Battalion, 4th Cavalry, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, pulls security duty during his unit's deployment to Iraq in 2009. Rosie was serving as a paramedic with the New York Fire Department on Sept. 11, 2001. Courtesy photo.

One chief decision that Rosie recalls making on that fateful day would take him nearly six years to come to fruition. He was re-enlisting in the U.S. Army.

"The fire department is a noble profession and a great job, very rewarding but I knew on that day (Sept. 11) that I couldn't stay in that capacity anymore," he said. "With the prior service and all that, I knew that everything had changed and I wanted to go back into the Army."

Unfortunately his age at the time was fighting against him. He was over the Army's maximum enlistment age. However, as though fate granted his wish, the policy was temporarily changed and Rosie jumped on his self-titled "small window of opportunity." After a near 26-year absence from when he first was discharged from the U.S. Army, he found himself once again donning the uniform.

"I guess they were getting hard up and taking old men," he chuckled. Four years later, he finds himself assigned to the historic 'Big Red One' at Fort Riley, Kan., and preparing to embark on his third deployment with the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team.

"I joined the Army to go and be deployed. I was there for payback. Let's face it. One month after joining the Army, I was in the desert; never even been in a humvee before. It was all (on the job training). I had no refresher, no train-up, nothing. It was quite stressful but it was good," he recalled of that first deployment in 2007.

"I thought I had bit off a little more than I could chew initially. But I persisted and I ended up doing real well," he said of his success in rapidly achieving the rank of staff sergeant after returning to the Army as a specialist.

This past July, Rosie returned to New York. The trip marked the first time he returned to the city since re-enlisting in the Army.

"I don't think about Sept. 11 too much. I'm not sure if it's some sort of coping mechanism, but I think it's why I never went back to New York," Rosie said.

He's currently gearing up for his third deployment with the "Dragon" brigade and hopes to remain in the Army and retire by the time he's 60.

"My goal is to reach retirement before I get so old that I die of natural causes," he said with a chuckle.

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